Show of hands: Can anyone out there name a more influential TV show from the past quarter century than The Simpsons?
At its finest, The Simpsons offers viewers a total redefinition of what television comedy can and should be. Without it, there would be no South Park, no Late Night with Conan O'Brien, no The Office. There would be no "Eat my shorts," no "Exxxxcellent," no "Worst. Episode. Ever." There would be no "D'oh!," an annoyed grunt so iconic it landed in the Oxford English Dictionary.
In honor of the long-awaited The Simpsons Movie, we rounded up six Simpsons fans between the ages of 26 and 36 - artist Katy Alderman, toy collector Mindy Callanan, major league mascot Kelly Frank, DJ Scott Imrich, comic Tarik Lewis and T-shirt maven Patrick Shatzer.
Over drinks and pizza at Ybor City's New World Brewery, where Duff Beer signs hang throughout, they discussed how the show has shaped their generation's sense of humor. Here are excerpts.
Who here is the biggest Simpsons nerd?
MINDY: Probably all of us.
KELLY: I remember getting kicked out of class in the third grade for wearing a Simpsons shirt that said "I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?" Apparently "hell" was a bad word. I got sent to the principal's office and had to turn my shirt inside out for the rest of the day.
PATRICK: When the show came out, it was totally taboo. It was like the adult cartoon. Some of your friends' parents wouldn't let you watch it.
KATY: It was the anti-Cosby Show.
TARIK: It was banned in my house. You had to watch Cosby. You were caught watching The Simpsons, there was a problem.
KATY: I think I was in a relationship the last six months solely for the reason that we both liked The Simpsons. That's all we did together, was watch The Simpsons.
Everyone here was born between 1971 and 1980. Is The Simpsons the best show of our generation?
MINDY: There's nothing even close to it.
TARIK: I'd have to say The Cosby Show. My father may read this.
SCOTT: Culturally, Seinfeld made a big dent, when you think about all the pop culture references that are still around from that show. But I don't think anything can touch what The Simpsons has done.
TARIK: Well, without The Simpsons, there probably wouldn't be a South Park. And I think The Simpsons helped spawn Adult Swim.
KELLY: It almost defined a sense of humor for an entire generation. That sharp, witty, even the big, dumb and obvious stuff kind of outlined my sense of humor growing up.
PATRICK: A lot of my memories of growing up are Simpsons memories. I think that's why when you meet somebody else that is a Simpsons fan, it's so relatable, because it's a part of growing up, a part of your sense of humor.
MINDY: I think I related to it a lot because Bart and Lisa were me and my brother, except I'm older. He was in endless trouble, always, and I was little miss goody two shoes.
PATRICK: I was Milhouse, and I wanted to be Bart.
MINDY: You could have been friends with my brother.
Which is the defining sitcom of the '90s, The Simpsons or Seinfeld?
SCOTT: You really can't compare them. There are 17- and 18-year-old kids who, their entire lives, The Simpsons has been on TV, from the moment they got home from the hospital.
TARIK: I think The Simpsons is more relevant than Seinfeld. It's a cartoon, and it speaks to a broader audience. I felt like I had to be older to watch Seinfeld.
SCOTT: THE SIMPSONS touched on everything. I still love it, and kids love it, so it touched across the board from day one. Seinfeld, not really. You can't sit a 10-year-old kid in front of Seinfeld and expect him to appreciate what's going on.
Who is the greatest Simpsons character?
MINDY: If I had to pick one, it would have to be Milhouse, because I think he's going to have the most problems when he grows up. He'd make the best spinoff show.
SCOTT: I think Ralph and Milhouse, just because everyone can relate to that awkwardness.
TARIK: I think Chief Wiggum, because he says the most off-the-wall stuff. He and his officers say the dumbest things.
PATRICK: "As long as I can shoot one freak on stilts a day, I'll be happy."
Who's the better character, Homer or Bart?
ALMOST ALL: Homer.
You say that now, but if I'd asked that question in 1991 . . . ?
SCOTT: We probably would have said Bart.
PATRICK: Well, we were all a lot younger.
KATY: I remember thinking that as soon as the stories started revolving around Homer, I liked the show a lot better. That's when it really started getting good.
KELLY: I disagree. I like Bart. I can still do the Bartman. I actually had that album, The Simpsons Sing the Blues, on cassette tape.
TARIK: I like Bart simply for the fact that he was the best character on the video game.
SCOTT: They've made Homer too much of a numbskull. There was that golden period where he was dumb and selfish and greedy, but there was still humanity there, and there was always a moral at the end of the story. The writing has gone downhill; I think that's a lot of it.
KELLY: It went downhill after Conan O'Brien left.
Tarik, on your MySpace page, you list the writers of The Simpsons as an influence. Can you talk about that a bit?
TARIK: You know how we talk about South Park pushing the envelope? To me, the envelope wouldn't be there without The Simpsons. In the '80s, a lot of shows didn't talk about politics and religion. It was a cartoon that finally talked about it - and as the years went by, they just kept doing it. When I do comedy, I'm told a lot of times, "Okay, you're a black comedian. Here's what you should be talking about." They want to typecast you. But The Simpsons did so many things with their show, it influenced me to pretty much say whatever I want. As long as I make it funny, it'll be accepted.
Is The Simpsons cool?
TARIK: It was cool if you liked it before 2002. Now that the movie's coming out, there's going to be a lot of people that like The Simpsons all of a sudden.
SCOTT: I think the first couple of seasons, there was a hipster element to The Simpsons. Now it's so pervasive. There isn't anybody that doesn't know The Simpsons.
PATRICK: My dad doesn't know The Simpsons.
SCOTT: My parents still don't get it.
What's your favorite Simpsons quote?
KELLY: "I choo-choo-choose you."
SCOTT: There's one where Homer has a mound of sugar in his back yard, and he goes on a soliloquy to Marge: "I want to taste it all, Marge - the dizzying highs, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles!"
KATY: There's a line from that episode - "The bees are on the what now?" - when the bees come to take the sugar. Whenever somebody says something and I don't get what they're saying, I say, "The bees are on the what now?"
PATRICK: When Homer's eating Pinchy the lobster, and he says, (sobbing) "Pinchy would have wanted it this way!"
MINDY: I think my favorite line is when Homer gets a helper monkey, and Marge comes home and she's like, "Why is the monkey wearing diapers?" He's like, "Meh." We say that all the time at work. "Meh."
Is it heresy to say that The Simpsons should have gone off the air a long time ago?
KATY: (wincing) Gosh, you hate to say that.
SCOTT: I don't think anybody wants to say that. But it's like that with certain things, whether it's television shows or bands or whatever . . . James Dean did like three movies, and he died at 24. He could have turned into a total hack after that. . . . If you compare the really bad Simpsons to everything else on television, it's not that bad. It just has its own legacy to live up to.
MINDY: I love it and I don't think they should ever take it off the air, even if it's not as funny as it used to be. I'd feel a little lost on Sunday night if I wasn't watching The Simpsons.
Jay Cridlin may be reached at email@example.com.
- Patrick Shatzer, 28, Tampa; owner of Owl Movement Tees.
- Katy Alderman, 31, Tampa; artist and handbag creator; www.katydidwhat.com.
- Mindy Callanan, 33, Clearwater; loan processor and avid Simpsons toy collector.
- Scott Imrich, 36, Tampa; DJ and host of WMNF's Saturday Asylum program; manager of the Hub in downtown Tampa.
- Kelly Frank, 26, Tampa; Raymond, the mascot of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
- Tarik Lewis, 27, Tampa; writer, performer and stand-up comedian.